JoLt 1986 – Australian Outback
High above London’s Heathrow Airport on 15th July, 1986 Quantas Flight QF82 had finally departed on the first leg of a twenty-seven hour flight to Adelaide, Australia. The “Journey of a Lifetime” had begun for eighteen disadvantaged young people.
The Trustees of the Jolt Trust had selected each participant because they felt that each would benefit from being part of a group of people who would try to achieve an arduous crossing of the Australian Outback, which few able bodied, more fortunate, people would be likely to contemplate. Although a doctor, two teachers and a policeman accompanied them, they were expected to care for and look after each other. Each of them knew that on their own the journey was not possible but that as part of a group with each member making their own personal contribution they might all make it together. Although each participant had attended a preparatory weekend, none of them knew the others well but now there was no opportunity to turn back.
After three cold wintry days in Adelaide the group began one of the world’s most notable railway journeys on the ‘Ghan’ to Alice Springs. It was on the train journey that the musical abilities of several of the youngsters were discovered and we were entertained with pop music through to Mozart (played by a blind teenager).
Alice Springs was a surprise. In the dry mid-centre of Australia with desert all around it was pouring with rain but the amazing adventure across the Australian Outback had only just begun. Fighting with water cannons and going mad in fire fighting foam at the Fire Station in Alice; seeing the sunset change the colour of Ayers Rock from yellow through red-rust on to black; climbing to the top of Ayers Rock; travelling by stage coach; riding on camels; flying over Ayers Rock in a small biplane, following the River Roper by helicopter and seeing the immenseness of the Outback, panning for gold and finding it; sailing through the thirteen spectacular gorges of the Katherine River; naming a fourteen foot crocodile ‘Jolt’ on the Adelaide River (do they re-name the crocodile for each group of visitors?!); swimming in the beautifully hot waters of Mataranka’s thermal pools (95°F with palm trees hanging into the crystal clear water); camping by the side of a billabong and being taught how to play the didgeridoo by an Aborigine chief who suffered from leprosy; hauling the wheelchair along treacherous routes up Obri Rock and seeing Aboriginal X-ray paintings dating back twenty to thirty thousand years are all moments that will never be forgotten and which made the journey unique.
The friendliness of the Tiwi people of the beautiful Bathurst and Melville Islands will always be a very special part of the adventure We were very honoured by being allowed to stay overnight on the Islands. We all slept on the floor of the Mission School Library and were entertained by the school children at night by the light of a camp fire. The happy, grinning children were as curious about us as we were about their customs and way of life. They taught us folk songs, hymns and tribal dances. They taught us how to survive in the Outback by eating large green ants found behind the barks of trees. They also showed us how to use their school’s computer.
We left Bathurst Island to camp under the stars in Kakadu Natural Wildlife Park. The night sky was peppered with stars and one could almost reach out to touch the Milky Way. At night, by a billabong complete with its crocodiles whose red eyes shone as they lay on the bank, we sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with real feeling. Every day was filled with so many new and wonderful experiences.
At various stops along our three thousand mile journey across Australia, the youngsters were welcomed into the homes to stay as guests of local families. Many friendships were made which we are confident will last. It was an extra special event for many in the group who had never before experienced ordinary happy family life.
One of the greatest memories that each and every participant will bring back with them will be that of the tremendous kindness and friendliness of the Australian people. They opened their hearts and homes to a group of disadvantaged youngsters from Britain who we hope will learn by their new perspective on life and will show to others some of the same kindness and generosity.
After a twenty-four hour stopover in Singapore, we arrived back in London exactly four weeks after our departure. For some it had been a hard month in which they had to learn to think of others rather than thinking only of themselves. Some had learnt to receive affection and kindness. Others noticeably grew in confidence. The boy suffering with cerebral palsy made marvellous progress with swimming and walking. They learnt to communicate with the deaf and to understand the problems of the blind. Some learnt for the first time to look after their own money and to wash and iron their clothes. They broadened their horizons and increased their knowledge of the geography, culture and fauna of Australia. They learnt to be more tolerant of other people and we hope that the venture gave them greater inner strength and the confidence to tackle the many problems that they will later face.
We wish every happiness to the eighteen young people who contributed so much as well as benefited so much from the venture, and we hope that they will continue to see us as friends to whom they can turn in times of trouble and in times of joy. We owe much to His Majesty King Hussein of Jordan for his continued support of our work.
We are grateful to the men and women of RAF Cosford for their moral and financial support. Without their help and the help of over two hundred companies, institutions and organisations this venture would never have been possible. We are indebted to our many friends at home who have worked so hard for us and to the many new friends who helped us along the way. We thank you all for your support and for your friendship. Above all, we thank you for caring.
We were accompanied on the journey by a film crew from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Ashley Smith (Producer), Dario Salpietro (Cameraman) and Colin Jones (Sound) became very much part of the group and we are grateful to them for their help and involvement, their sense of fun and for their sympathetic film of our venture. The film has been shown on television in Australia and we hope that it will be shown in this country in the near future.
Participants: Joanne Abbs, Michael Green, Ayesha Ismail, Sean Kelly, Andrew King, Michael Loiacono, John Maidens, Julie Murray, Christopher Oskis, David Parker, Angela Rowe, Shelley Scott, Andrew Slorance, Richard Smith, David Storey, Steven Thompson, Cheryl Willett, Peter Wilson.
Leaders: Dorothy Dalton, Joe Lacey, Clive Ridgeon, Claire Walford.